Continued from page 1

Recent events underscore those tensions.

On Jan. 24, soldiers seized 24-year-old Sunni cleric Omar Atrash, suspecting he recruited suicide bombers, smuggled explosives and planned attacks. Fellow clerics claim he was tortured into making false confessions.

The day before Atrash was arrested, soldiers shot Ibrahim Abu Meilek, 22, who they suspected of harboring extremist Syrian rebels, local media reported. Outraged Sunnis asked why Abu Meilek was punished while Hezbollah fighters around move freely.

On Jan. 15, soldiers killed a man during a raid in the eastern town of Kamed al-Lawz, with local media claiming he harbored Lebanon’s most wanted militant. Sunni clerics said he supported anti-Assad Syrian rebels.

Thousands of men marched in his funeral, enraged by a video showing his blood pooling around a pair of abandoned shoes.

“When the law is only applied to one side, it creates grievances,” Sunni politician Mustafa Alloush said. “What the Sunni street feels is that there’s winking toward Hezbollah, and severity toward the other side.”

Reflecting that anger, a series of attacks have targeted Lebanese soldiers. In January, gunmen in Tripoli killed two soldiers by firing a rocket at their vehicle. In mid-December, a man hurled a grenade at an army checkpoint near the southern city of Sidon. Hours later, another attacker blew himself up with a hand grenade, killing a soldier.

On Saturday, a suicide attacker driving an SUV blew himself up at an army checkpoint in the northeastern town of Hermel, killing two soldiers.

A shadowy Lebanese group inspired by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in neighboring Syria accused the “brutal Lebanese army” of allowing Hezbollah fighters to cross through military checkpoints.

“They do not stop here. They (Hezbollah) have handed over protection of their dens to the Lebanese army, so they can devote themselves to waging war against the Sunni Syrian people, placing the (Lebanese) army in the confrontation,” it said in a statement released Tuesday.

Growing anger has been made more dangerous because of a years-long drift by the Sunni community away from its traditional moderate leaders, in some cases to fiery preachers.

In an online recording uploaded in January, a shadowy Tripoli militant called on Sunnis to desert the army.

“Don’t be a sword that Christians and Shiites carry to stab you,” said the militant, who called himself Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari.

Retired army general Amin Hoteit dismissed accusations of discrimination.

“When Hezbollah fighters go to Syria, they cross checkpoints as civilians. They aren’t taking their weapons to Syria. They have no reason to be halted,” he said.

Story Continues →